You asked, MOAA answered: Will TRICARE changes affect my access to care?
About the Author

Gina Harkins is MOAA's Senior Staff Writer. She can be reached at ginah@moaa.org. Follow her on Twitter at: @ginaaharkins.

When it comes to upcoming changes to the TRICARE system, one of the top concerns people have is whether it’ll be harder to see a doctor when and where they want.

That’s something MOAA will be keeping a close eye on over the next few years, too, says Capt. Kathy Beasley, USN (Ret), director of MOAA’s government relations health affairs. New TRICARE enrollment fees won’t kick in until 2020, and watchdogs want to be sure access to health care hasn’t suffered at the same time people are being asked to pay more for their coverage.

This week, Beasley and Brooke Goldberg, MOAA’s director of Military Family Policy/Spouse Programs, answer your questions about whether new TRICARE changes will affect your access to care.

Be sure to check out  Part 1 of our series on the new TRICARE changes, which covers who’s affected. Part 2 addresses how the new TRICARE enrollment rules will work. 

Will the new TRICARE changes affect the choices people have when it comes to picking their doctors and hospitals?

Beasley: That’s going to be assessed in a report by the Government Accountability Office before enrollment fees start for TRICARE Select users. TRICARE Select users are going to have to pay annual enrollment fees starting in 2020 ( $150 for individuals or $300 for a family), so one might ask what they’re going to be getting for this enrollment fee. 

If continuity of care is disrupted at the same time they’re asked to pay more for their coverage, that would be a concern. 

What is the GAO going to be assessing in that report? 

Beasley: There’s a number of things the Defense Health Agency has been charged to do, like improving after-hours care, fast-tracking urgent care, and changing the referrals authorization process. The GAO will look at satisfaction levels with the TRICARE Select program. They’ll also be make sure there’s an adequate network that meets the needs of TRICARE Select users. 

Do these changes present any unique challenges for active duty families?

Goldberg: The big issue for them is that they move so often they don’t always have the opportunity to establish themselves in a network. They have to get into a network of health care providers — particularly if they have a specific need like a child with asthma or cystic fibrosis — and get plugged in right away, not knowing whether that network will be adequate. 

If they PCS to a base near a big city, they might have access to specialist. But those near small towns might not have the specialty care they need. 

Right now, TRICARE Prime has built into it what you could call an escape hatch: If you are not getting the care you want at the [military treatment facility] or on TRICARE Prime, you can switch to TRICARE Standard, go out and find your own doctor, and handle your stuff yourself. The coming plan will not have the same kind of escape hatch.

What are some of the top things MOAA will be looking out for when it comes to these changes?

Goldberg: I think the No. 1 thing will be families saying they have access to the care they need. If we hear from families that they’re not able to see providers they’re supposed to see in an adequate amount of time, that’s going to be a priority.

Will any of these TRICARE changes affect people’s dental and vision plans? 

Beasley: There aren’t going to be any changes to those programs for retirees or family members through this year. 

What is going to change is that starting Jan. 1, 2019, certain TRICARE beneficiaries — like retirees — will be able to purchase the vision and dental programs offered to federal employees. There will be a menu of choices available to them at that point, and we’ll keep MOAA members up to speed on those changes once that gets closer. 

Have a question about the new TRICARE rules? Send it to  beninfo@moaa.org  and we’ll get our subject-matter experts to weigh in. 

 
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